Monday, April 30, 2012

Proof of the unorganized...

There are a lot of people who are under the impression that I stay completely organized. Well... that just plain isn't the way it works. First of all, all of my cleaning time that I had before this school year is completely gone now and has been replaced by homeschooling. Not only that, but I have added Bible study, a babysitting job, and all of Ben's enrichment activities into an already busy schedule which includes activities for all three kids. There is just plain not enough time in the day to get everything done and the little time that I do have is spent recovering from this schedule. Thus, keeping my house organized kind of gets pushed aside.

The school room is small. I have utilized as much space as possible, but it is small nonetheless. I have lots of organization in the room, but unfortunately the working version of the room does not stay organized. Here is what our school room looks like regularly.

I do clean it up and put everything away as often as I can. I also try to get a vacuum in there and dust. However, this is what happens after about a week of craziness. As you can see, there are piles of workbooks strewn about. Math manipulatives are strewn about. Piles of library books are on the floor. The preschool desk is completely covered from top to bottom. The only desk that I insist stays usable is Benjamin's. However, the floor around his desk... not so much. If you look closely, you'll even see a Santa hat under his chair...not sure where that Santa hat came from, actually....

So, as you can see, the busy schedule we follow does take its toll. But, you can also see that there is a LOT of learning going on in this room. This stuff is out because it was being used. I have a feeling that this school room will be gutted some time soon.

Monday, April 23, 2012

More M&Ms!

Benjamin has really been struggling with the concept of more than/less than. My frustration post the other day was about the battle between the two of us when I was attempting to teach it to him. For me, it is one of the easiest, most basic math concepts there is. I couldn't understand how he didn't get it. But, after a reality check with my hubby, I realized that Benjamin is not me and that we don't think the same way at all. Following my hubby's advice, I revamped the lesson and started over completely. I realized that it could be that Benjamin wasn't completely grasping the precursor skills needed... that he may not truly realize which group has more in it and which has less in it. So, that's where I decided to begin. I had a plan of where to start and where to go, but I needed something that is incredibly motivating. That's where the M&Ms come in.

Benjamin LOVES M&Ms. It was one of his very first words and was what we have used throughout a lot of his life as a motivator to help him achieve skills. So, naturally, when I tell him we are doing M&M math, he gets super excited. Here was the lesson:

  • Make a mouth out of the greater than/less than sign. Instead of saying it is an alligator mouth or pacman, I decided to tell Benjamin that it was HIS mouth. After all, Benjamin is going to be eating the M&Ms... might as well make it meaningful and memorable.

  • Use two bowls as your "comparison" bowls and one full of M&Ms to pull from. Start off with a really easy comparison. I did 15 and 2 to start. Obviously, the Benjamin mouth would rather eat the bowl with 15 in them, not 2. I did a couple of example problems like that, showing different amounts of M&Ms with obvious comparisons. Benjamin didn't get to eat the M&Ms unless he got the answer correct and did it by himself. He then got to eat the larger number that the Benjamin mouth wanted to eat.
  • We next moved onto problems with numbers that were much closer together. I pulled out our handy dandy Uno cards to start to move him from the concrete (M&Ms) to the abstract (numbers). I have found that it is much more meaningful for him if there is a combination of the two together to begin with. I started by counting out the number of M&Ms on the card in front of him and then having him tell me which bowl had more, placing the Benjamin mouth card between them facing the correct direction. He always got to eat the larger number if he got the answer correct. It works well with him to get positive reinforcement at first for every correct answer.
  • Benjamin then had to do the problem completely on his own. He had to count out the M&Ms on the cards that I picked out, figure out which group was more, and place the Benjamin mouth card. 

  • After practicing for a while with the combination of concrete and abstract, I decided to start phasing out the concrete. I started by counting the M&Ms in the bowls in front of him and then quickly hiding them behind my back, leaving only the numbers to be seen in front of him. He still got the M&Ms if he got the answers correct... which at this point he did every single time.
  • I then counted the M&Ms out without him being able to see them. He still got them if the answer was correct, but he did not get clues as to which number was bigger.
  • I then had him do two or three problems without getting the reward of the M&Ms.

  • Last, but not least, we completed a greater than/less than worksheet together. He would tell me which one was bigger and then face the Benjamin mouth the correct direction. I did the writing for him to decrease his anxiety. Out of 10, he only missed one! He still seems to have a little trouble with bigger numbers that are close together (like 15 and 16), but overall, his understanding is much better.

If you have a child who is struggling with a certain math concept, try and remember the following.  These tips work with all children, including those with special needs. 

  1. Break the concept down to its earliest parts and work from there. They will never understand how to do the harder concepts if they don't understand the easier ones.
  2. Use manipulatives!! I have found that the more motivating the manipulatives, the better. You can use blocks, legos, goldfish crackers, jelly beans, plastic animals, or yes, M&Ms. The concepts are a lot easier to understand if they are tangible.
  3. Slowly take away the manipulatives and helpers. Sometimes, you can take them away after one or two problems, other times you will need them for a long time. 
  4. If it is math, and they struggle with writing, take out the writing for them. Use stamps, cards, cut and paste, you writing for them, etc. Writing has its place and we work on it a lot here, but Ben's anxiety goes way up if I try to make him write on every assignment. I want to know if he knows how to do the math, not if he knows how to write the number 3.
  5. Remember: it is all about motivation. One of my boys' preschool teachers put it best: would you go to work if you didn't get paid? The answer for most of us would be no. So, why is it we expect children to do their work without any reward? There are times when they should just do it, but they will probably lack the motivation to do it and the outcome will be completely different than if there is a reward involved. My approach today vs. my "do it" approach the other day when working on the exact same math concept is a perfect example of how motivation can completely change the outcome of the situation.
  6. If a step is too difficult, go back and work on the step before. Stay there until the child is ready to make the next jump. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Homeschooling Frustrations

GRRRR... it has been one of those days for homeschooling. One of those days that you want to throw in the towel and completely give up. One of those days that you ask yourself why you are doing it. Days like today are frustrating and infuriating.

But, really... I am not all that surprised. Last week was Spring Break. Andrew was home from school and I was in Vegas for a girls-only long weekend trip with family. During the time that I was gone, the kids got a cold. Ben's turned into an ear infection which had a high fever and then because of that fever, two seizures. Needless to say, NO schoolwork was done last week. No schoolwork was done Monday or yesterday. So, this morning, with Ben's fever gone and with him back to his normal self, I immediately felt like I needed to "catch up" for the time off and get back on track. I am feeling the pressure and neither of us is really all that motivated to do the work.

It started off great until I said the dreaded "M" word. Ben HATES math. Sneaking math into other subjects is how I generally get around this, but there are some math concepts that he is really having a difficult time with and I decided to focus on those today. Thus begins our battle. Ben refused to do his work, shushed me, and was being all around obnoxious. Put Kate (who is looking for the Mommy attention that she has been missing with me out of town) in the situation and I was quickly to my breaking point and so was Ben. It ended with me teaching very little (even though there was LOTS of attempts), Ben learning very little, and both of us angry with each other.

My solution for right now: BREAK TIME!! Ben is off practicing piano for enrichment and Kate is playing in her room. Me... I am checking Facebook and writing this blog entry to cool down. I have learned that sometimes, the battle just isn't worth it. What's important is that he learns what he needs to in math for this year... not that he complete the page in his math curriculum on the day that I had it planned for him. Now, if only I could keep that in mind while in the midst of the full out battle of wills that occurs on days like today. Sometimes, a break is all that is needed. We will tackle it again after enrichment while Kate is down for a much needed nap and Andrew is doing his homework. And just maybe, I will bring out the M&Ms to use as manipulatives and increase Ben's motivation.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Welcome Spring!!

Spring has sprung here in North Carolina. Pollen covers every surface, creating a world of green itchiness. What a perfect time to begin learning about plants! I spent the weekend weeding some of my garden beds and will spend this next weekend further preparing the sites for planting. In the meantime, however, we have been busy talking about plants and planting a pot full of carrot seeds. Ben is in charge of making sure that the pot is well watered everyday. He has already learned that plants need sun, water, and soil to survive. He also understands that we are growing these things to eat. He keeps telling me that he is growing carrots for rabbits and that he wants to pretend to be a least he gets it :-)

Carrots are SPROUTING!

Benjamin has an observation journal that we have been using throughout the year for science. I am going to be having him draw pictures as the plants grow to show the changes in them. My husband is also going to attempt to build a planter with plexi-glass sides so that Ben can see the root structure and the progress that seeds make. Another goal for this year's science is to observe and understand the differences and changes in seasons and to be able to identify activities relative to the seasons. This is easily achieved with all of our activities.

We have also begun talking about birds. This has been an easy transition considering we just finished our penguin unit. I recently refilled our bird feeder in our backyard so that we can start looking for different birds that are native to this area. Since I am not originally from here, I am amazed to see all of the beautiful colors on birds. I am so glad that my kids get to grow up seeing these things.

There is a park nearby that has geese and ducks. We spent an entire afternoon at the park playing, going on nature walks, and then feeding the geese and ducks. Benjamin learned how to tell if a duck is a male or female, the difference between geese and ducks, and then took a peak at the feet of these birds to see that they are webbed. I asked Benjamin why he thinks that they have webbed feet and he answered correctly: that it helps them to swim.

On a nature walk. Ben was very learning to climb on rocks.

Overall, spring is going to be an awesome time to learn about science/nature and to work on gross motor skills outside. My only problem is that I seem to want to spend all of our extra time outside and am somewhat putting our other work (like math) on the back burner.  BAD Mommy! BAD Mommy! Admitting this downfall will hopefully give me an incentive to be really creative and sneak math into the nature and outdoor activities we are doing.

Happy Spring everybody!